Cloth Diapers (and Small Babies)
Cloth Diaper Summary (Based upon 2003 prices)
Costs For Twins
Note: With our front loading washer we are now washing diapers
every 4 days - reducing the costs even further from what is calculated below.
We also keep finding used fitted cloth diapers at amazing prices. We
just bought 8 medium sized ones for $3.00. We can use them and sell
them for more than that! Typically they go for $2.00 each used and 4x that
Cost estimates from Diapering Decisions
are as follows: $2,700 for 7,349 disposable diapers for a baby from birth to 30 months.
Laundering is $0.44 to $0.78 per load from Consumer Reports (water, hydro, detergent, drying).
So cloth diaper laundering, per week for twins, costs $1.56 max. Disposables would cost $17.00 per week.
Another estimate (in US $$) is from a booklet "Alternatives in Diapering" by the
Peace River Childbirth Education Assoc. Per load the costs for 24 diapers are:
detergent $0.27, 45 gal water (180L), 20 cu ft natural
gas to heat water ($0.03), dryer electicity $0.40, washer elec. $0.05, washer and dryer
depreciation $0.25. This is based upon a $600 washer lasting 12 years at 6 loads/week
and that the dryer lasts for 15 years. Their summary was $1.60 per load or $436 to wash
6,500 diapers over 2.5 years
We use our drier on the "delicate" setting - it runs with only 1/2 of
the heating coils on (11.2A draw vs 22.0A draw at 240V). We don't know how much faster
the clothes would dry on the normal setting - using 2x the electricty per hour.
Material costs ($243 for twins for their diaper life)
- flat diapers - 50 at $1.50 each = $75.00 (average 10 .. 12 diapers per child per day when they are young). Note we cut these in half as they were far too large and so have never
used more than 1/2 of them.
- small diaper wraps - 8 at $9.00 each = $72.00 (for the 6 months .. year of life) When the kids were young we'd go thru 8 wraps every 2 or 3 days. That decreased around
4 months of age to aprox. 6 wraps every 4 days.
- medium diaper wraps - 8 at $9.00 each = $72.00 (for the second and later years)
- fitted diapers - 32 at $0.75 each (bought used) = $24.00 (mainly night-time use)
Washing Machine - Front vs Top Loader
The benefits of our 2.7 cubic foot front loader over our older 3 cu ft Heavy Duty Kenmore
top loader are:
- 1/3 the hot water consumption reducing water heating costs
- 1/2 of the soap consumption (for the same weight of diapers to wash)
- Washes about 2x the weight of fabric per load!! In a top loader the tub is filled
with water but diapers float. That limits how much of the tub can be filled and still
have diapers being washed.
- Uses aprox 2/3 of the electricity, makes less noise and is easier on the clothes.
Diaper Use Over Time
- During the first 3 months - aprox 50 diapers (one washing load - top loader) every 2.5 days of 1/2 sized flat diapers (37 diaper loads in 3 months) This included several (aprox
4) soiled diapers every day.
- During 3 .. 9 months - aprox 50 diapers (one washing load - front loader) of 20
fitted diapers and 30 full sized flat diapers every 4 days (23 diaper loads per 3 months).
Basically the kids only soil one diaper every day or two.
- At 11.5 months we're still using all of the same diapers. Some of the fitted diapers
which we bought (well used) are really starting to wear out but we can easily fix them
by sewing a flat diaper overtop of them (the fabric is wearing thru along the edges of the
- At 13 months we're starting to use less diapers. They only soil the diapers once
or twice a day and it comes right off (except when they have diarhea) and they're wetting
the diapers a lot less so they easily go 4 hours in a diaper. As a result our pile of
diapers is lasing 6+ days now (while they used to barely be enough for 5 days.
I've also run into problems with soap buildup and have had to reduce the amount of soap
used for washing diapers.
Front Loading Machine - $0.74 per wash of 50 full sized diapers
- electricity for washing - $0.02 per wash (measured 128 watt-hour over 51 min)
- electricity for drying - $0.25 per load [measured 1 hour 11A @ 230V = 2.5kwH at $0.10/kwH])
- detergent (noname, hypoalergenic, phosphate free) $0.15 per wash (aprox 2x the price of our regular detergent)
- water (112L per wash and extra rinse) - $0.17
- water heating (20L) per warm wash - ballpark est. $0.15 (30% of our total water heating costs)
Top Loading Machine - $1.40 per wash of 25 full sized diapers
- electricity for washing - $0.03 (170 watt-hour for a similar model)
- electricity for drying - $0.37 per load [measured 1.5 hour 11A @ 230V = 3.8kwH at $0.10/kwH]
- detergent (noname, hypoalergenic, phosphate free) $0.25 per wash
- water (210L per wash) - $0.30 per short rinse (60L cold water) and full wash (60L warm, 90L cold rinse water)
- water heating (60L) per warm wash - ballpark est. $0.45 (75% of our water heating costs at the time)
Washing Machine and Drier Use
My estimated life of a washer is 10 years at a load per 2 days (my drier is much older
than that and two used washing machines ($200 ea) only lasted 100 washes each before they
needed another $50 .. $100 in repairs.
Diapers represent aprox 1/2 of all the laundry washed during the first 2 years of a
Given that a ballpark wear and tear cost of $1.00 (front loader) or $0.50 (top loader) per diaper
wash would mean that 2 years of washing diapers
would pay for 20% of the cost of a new washing machine and a used drier.
Summary of Twin Diapering Costs for 9 months = 3,650 diapers
- Disposable diapers (8 per day per child) = $1,080 or $0.25 each
- Top Loading Washer (140 loads): = $243 (diapers) + $213 (washing) + $70 (wear/tear)
= $526 or $0.14 per diaper per use
- Front Loading Washer (69 loads): = $243 (diapers) + $54 (washing) + $69 (wear/tear)
= $356 or $0.10 per diaper per use
Twin Diapering Experience At 19 months
Diapers are being washed every 5 to 6 days - at times they'll go thru a wrap or two a day
each - and other times one wrap every 3 days or so. We now use flat diapers for both at
night (1.5 full sized flats) and are using fitted diapers on Amy during the day. Both are
using the potty - Amy much more than Ian - but they don't yet ask to use it - we have to
remind them that it's an option. Recently I did a double wash of the diapers - once with
bleech, and the water heater turned above "warm" to whiten things up.
If you like white and pristine clothes then using cloth diapers likely isn't for you. Many
of our used diapers - were quite used and we're using them into rags.
We've had streches where Ian, in particular, tends to pee a lot at once - overwhelming
whatever diaper he's in. It's not unusual for him to soak the diaper and start soaking his
pants - but then cloth diaper washing costs us about $1.50 per week for both kids and washing
a few more kids pants doesn't cost anything.
Estimated Twin Diapering Costs for 2 years = 9,900 diapers
- Disposable diapers (8 per day per child) = $3,500 or $0.25 each
- Top Loading Washer (380 loads): = $243 (diapers) + $585 (washing) + $190 (wear/tear)
= $1,013 or $0.10 per diaper per use
- Front Loading Washer (187 loads): = $243 (diapers) + $116 (washing) + $187 (wear/tear)
= $546 or $0.055 per diaper per use
Note: Cloth diaper costs will be lower because we'll be able to sell our used
cloth diapers for perhaps 1/2 of what we paid!
Note: The local diaper service uses 3L of water / diaper for washing/bleeching/whatever. We were using around
4 L of water /diaper with the top loading washer and around 2.1 L/diaper with the front loading washer.
"Prefitted" and AIO (All In One) Cloth Diapers
Here is a summary of our experience with some prefitted diapers.
- Cuddlers - These are basic prefitted, with leg elastics, ones which work well. They are my favorite.
- Indisposable - A prefitted design with a central soaking pad. They fit and work well but take longer to dry than Cuddlers and don't cover the velcro as well as Cuddlers.
Generally the velcro tabs (plastic) fold and have to be replaced. We like them.
- Sweet Lou's This is a modified fitted design with an extra "tongue" of material. They
dry well and are small enough to fit inside small Motherease wraps. We like them.
- Amway All-In-OneThis is a very poor design. Fabric wraps from the inside to the outside
wicking urine. We started by removing most of the outer layer of fabric and then removing the inner plastic
liner. Now we use them as standard fitted diapers. They have a modified "tongue" that doesn't work well.
It can easily be "poo-glued" shut so that it doesn't open in the washer!
"Flat" Cloth Diapers
Standard "flat" cloth diapers are a flanelette cotton sheet 27" (69cm) square.
To make a diaper these are typically folded in half and in half again to give a
13.5" (34cm) square sheet 4 layers of fabric thick. Then they are folded into
thirds - the same as a prefold cloth diaper.
These diapers were very large on our children so we cut the square in half and then
folded in half once to give a square. That square is 13.5" (34cm) and 2 layers of
fabric thick. That has been working well past 4 months of age.
To finish the diaper the fabric is folded into thirds and one side is laid into the
other giving a longish rectangle that is 6 layers of fabric thick in our case or
12 layers thick if a standard flat sheet was used.
Cloth Diaper Wraps
We recommend these Canadian companies:
- MotherEase (Rikki X-small wraps for babies under 8 lb) - Our favorites
- Diapering Decisions (Litewraps are so-so wraps)
- RP Diaper Designs (good prices and selection, we don't like their "basic" diapers but prefer either flat or fitted types)
A wrap is a plastic wrapping around a cloth diaper - designed to make sure that the
liquids in the diaper don't soak the babies clothes.
We use both Litewraps and the Motherease Rikki wraps. The small Litewraps (rated 0 to 10 lb)
and small / x-small Rikki wraps are just starting to fit our Ian (at 10 lb).
Friends say that they fit their 15lb girl just fine!
We have renamed the Nikki wraps
to "Icky wraps". We have 2 varieties. One is made of neoprene and fabric and it soaks
when the diaper soaks. It would only be good for kids who let you know instantly if the
diaper is soiled or wet. The other Icky wrap is a plastic wrap with fabric on the outside.
That wrap takes forever to dry and we hate it.
But the Nikki wraps are the only ones which come anywhere close to fitting Amy (when she
was <2 months old) so we had to use them.
At one month of age (aprox 7.25 lb) Ian is starting to fit into the "Lite wraps (0 to 10 lb)".
They are starting to fit around his leg although you still have to overlap the waist bands to
get it snug enough. At 4 months, even when Amy was almost 10 lb, she still didn't fit well
into the Litewraps. With Ian the waist band tabs touch in the middle and with Amy they overlap!
At 4 months (11 lb) Ian is still "starting to fit" into the Litewraps. Neither those or the
XS MotherEase Rikki wraps are large enough to cover fitted diapers. At nighttime (3+ months
onward with Ian) we use fitted diapers with "small" MotherEase Rikki or Kooshies small
(these things are huge!!) wraps.
What You Need
Here are our recommendations for people using cloth diapers.
- Do not buy any large quantity of cloth diapering equipment until you have tried them
out for yourself. In particular avoid AIO (All In One) cloth diapers until you have some
experience. Check local used clothing stores and papers for used cloth diapers. It is possible
to spend more on cloth diapers than on disposables by buying brand new cloth diapering equipment
that doesn't work for you.
- Flat cloth diapers are easiest and cheapest at $1.50 each. Buy 20 per baby and cut some
of them in half if the baby is under 12 lb. We prefer to use a 1/2 sized flat as the basic
diaper with another 1/2 or 1/4 sized one folded into thirds, in the middle, as a "soaker".
- Fitted diapers start to work well for babies >11 lb. Pick up some used ones for nighttime
use. They typically come in two sizes.
- Diaper wraps. Get four MotherEase XS Rikki wraps for kids <8 lb and Small Rikki wraps for
babies over 8lb. Avoid Kooshies except for fitted diapers and kids > 11 lb.
- Use a hypoallergenic laundry detergent without phosphate (use use the No Name brand) or
Ivory with about 1/4 to 1/2 of the recommended amount per wash. Avoid Tide as it is one of
the harshest detergents and known to cause rashes.
- Remember that cloth diapers do come in several sizes. Typically wraps come in 2 or 3
sizes and the diapers come in 2 sizes. Typically "soakers" are added to handle larger wettings
during night time. If you have small ( <8 lb) babies then you will likely have to get the extra
small wraps and those wraps can not be used with fitted diapers (and you may want to use only
fitted diapers since they're a bit more convient than flat diapers).
Costs and Benefits
- We find that we are using aprox. 12 cloth (aprox 3/4 of a flat diaper) diapers per child
per day. Full sized flats
(27" square) weigh 80g each - the same weight as a typical small fitted diaper.
- After over three weeks of daily use and washing, our cloth diapers have few stains and
generally appear to be in excellent condition. Stains are very easily removed with sunlight
(even thru windows). The stains are yellow and likely due to the biliruben (breakdown product
from blood). Since biliruben breaks down readily in sunlight (they use light therapy on
jaundice babies [biliruben buildup in the skin]) we're guessing that the stains are primarily
that. Also green stool is due to bile (used to digest fats) not be absorbed before the stool
is released. This simply means that the food is going thru the baby quickly - but it's nothing
to worry about.
- After almost 5 months of use our cloth diapers are fully de-fluffed and they have some
stains but still work quite well. They show no signs of wearing out yet.
- Flat diapers dry 20% faster and wash better than pre-folds as they open up completely.
The flip side of that is that you must fold them back up when they're dried. Of course
that is also mostly true for pre-folds as they're only partially folded for you. The
All-in-one diaper should be the worst; taking the most time to dry. We've been warned
many times to avoid diapers with a built in plastic wrap as the plastic dramatically
slows down the drying time.
- Flat diapers sell for $15 for 10 or $1.50 Cdn each. By cutting them in half they
cost $0.75 each. In comparison a disposable diaper costs $0.25. Given that a
standard load of laundry costs about $1 and can wash 40 standard or 80 of our
reduced diapers - the cost per diaper for laundering is very small compared to $0.25.
- Disposable diapers wick moisture away from from the babies skin and as such the
baby tends to stay drier for several wettings (not soilings). Because of this it is
not fair to say that every change of a disposable diaper is equivalent to one change
of a cloth diaper - you really end up changing cloth diapers more often.
- Given this cloth diapers break even in cost by 7th or 8th use and our reduced size
ones break even by the 4th use.
- We've had leakage past the cloth diaper several times and we've also had leakage with
disposable diapers (we've used 100 disposables so far).
- Amy, at 4.75 lb, did not fit wraps very well so we used cloth on her without a
wrap. That means that at every soiling or wetting she also needs a new jumper suit and
possibly a blanket (we use a rubberized blanket under her). Ian at 5.5+ lb fits into
the MotherEase Rikki wraps or Litewrap Newborn size.
- At 4 weeks old for Ian and 5 weeks for Amy - they are now using 3/4 size flat diapers.
That is to say a 1/2 size flat with a 1/4 sized flat on top of each other. The full sized
flats are way too large and this gives extra absorbency. We've been increasing the capacity
of the flat diapers this way - and also by making inserts sewn from scraps of fabric or old
- I am hating diapers with velcro fasterns with a passion as they always end up sticking
to something in the wash. With the older MotherEase all-in-one diaper; they all end up
sticking to themselves so when I found one I'd pull them all out of the wash! I also
don't like the split flap in the older MotherEase AIO (All In One) diapers as they
don't necessarily open up in the wash (and therefore don't get washed!) and because they
take longer to dry. The "Sweet Lou's" fitted cloth diapers have a single large flap that
can be folded in half and those diapers wash well and dry quickly. "Indisposable" fitted
diapers work quite well.
The Diapering Decisions "Lite Wraps" have
a different, flatter, type of velcro which doesn't stick to fabrics as much.
I do not recommend All-In-One (AIO) diapers with a built in plastic layer to anyone.
But fitted diapers are more convient than flat diapers.